One of my favorite songs growing up was the Barenaked Ladies song, “If I Had a Million Dollars.” In the song, the duo sings about what they would buy for each other and their significant others if they had a million dollars. It’s catchy, light and fun; as a child, I would sing that song everyday as my mom drove me to school. But now, I run that question through my mind daily: what would I do if I had a million dollars?
Part of me thinks I would just buy a ton of useless garbage, pay off my loans or finish my parents mortgage. Maybe I’d pay for my sister’s college tuition, pay my own or buy my friends cool shit. Maybe I’d just give it all to charity. The possibilities are endless — but then I remind myself it’s insane to think that in my life I would ever have a spare million dollars to do with as I pleased. Chances are I won’t ever see that kind of money; while that reality doesn’t really bother me, it leads me to something else that does. There are thousands of people in the world that do have that kind of money and much, much more of it. While I could apply this to every category of millionaire/billionaire, I’ll tighten my focus to just people directly involved in sports because I am a sports editor and, yah know, go sports.
My goal isn’t to say these people don’t deserve this money; they realistically don’t have control of the current state of society and how much sports are valued in the world. But being part of the system, they can make up for what I believe is the depressing reality that professional athletes make much more than teachers, doctors, civil servants, librarians, park service people, firefighters, engineers, police officers, people in the armed forces and veterans. Sometimes an athlete will make more money in a single day than a teacher will see in a lifetime. Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic has made $111 million from prize money over his whole career. This isn’t counting sponsorship deals.
It’s a reality that isn’t what I would call fair, but the people with bulging pockets who have mastered a certain set of skills can put their money in the hands of people who can work to help change this reality or maybe morph it.
To put some things into perspective, the average player in the National Basketball Association makes roughly $6.2 million a year. The average working American makes roughly $62,175; when comparing this to the other countries’ average incomes (according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis), the U.S. is very high on the spectrum.
It’s nearly 1.5 times more than England, five times the average house income in China, about 40 times the average in India. It is only rivaled by Germany’s average income and dwarfed by certain sectors of the Middle East and Monaco. Why I put all of those numbers there is to enunciate the point that American workers — in comparison to the vast majority of the world — are well paid, yet the average American or even the above-average American can always use a boost of cash.
That is where these handsomely paid athletes come in. They have the ability, with the massive amount of funds they make, to give their well-earned cash towards local businesses, city governments, nonprofit charity organizations, animals shelters, food banks, national parks, homeless shelters, the adoption system, public education, wild life funds, grass roots organizations, scholarship funds, paying off students loans or paying off someone’s mortgage. The possibilities with the money they have are endless, and in some cases, athletes are doing this with their money.
Recently, basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar auctioned off his NBA championship rings and other famous memorabilia, all in the name of charity. He raised nearly $2.8 million for his SkyHook foundation, which helps underprivileged kids get access to the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
When asked why he put his rings up for auction in an interview with Sports Illustrated, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said, “Looking back on what I have done with my life, instead of gazing at the sparkle of jewels or gold plating celebrating something I did a long time ago, I’d rather look into the delighted face of a child holding their first caterpillar and think about what I might be doing for their future … That’s a history that has no price.”
He is a shining example of a man who worked hard, won it all, and has since spent his twilight years giving it all to the betterment of others.
So what I would propose to the athletes who are making more money in a month than what some people will see in a lifetime is that they give 10% of their salary to charity or start one of your own or pay off someone’s house or start a scholarship or help fund climate change reform. Put money into the hands of those that can change the world or take matters into your own hands and create organizations that will do that.
While I love sports and generally like the people who play them, they can do so much more than just hit a green ball or punch someone really hard.
They can help change the world and heals the many wounds it has. All it takes is a little money in the right place, a kind heart and they can change someone’s life.